Mark Butcher: Strategy spot-on, execution slightly awry

England have been making 14 or 15 chances an innings. There have been times when we have struggled to create half that many
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The Independent Online

Without the first bit, none of the rest was possible. Unfortunately, only the first bit arrived. England made 373 when they would have been looking at 500. Maybe they showed some impetuosity, but an aggressive approach is what has allowed them to dominate for most of three matches in the series.

There was a delicate balance to be struck. They had to continue in the vein which has served them so well, but they had to make sure they got 500. In failing to do so they made life difficult, though not impossible, for themselves. The other factor in winning the toss and scoring a large total is that it precludes the risk of having to bat fourth on a pitch likely to take turn, especially against a side containing the best spin bowler there has ever been.

So England did not put themselves out of it, but made life rather more fraught for themselves than it might have been. If Australia were to get a lead of anything in excess of 100, life would become terribly difficult. The Shane Warne factor is multiplied, and given those circumstances there is no better cricketer in the world to exploit them.

This England side are equipped to deal with the situation, but batting time while still having to keep the board ticking over is an arduous process. After Ricky Ponting called it wrong on Thursday morning, Vaughan will know that England could have profited better.

If Australia were to retain the Ashes it would be a huge pity. It would not, however, be a true reflection of the series as a whole and should not undermine the glorious way England have played. Some of the players, especially Freddie Flintoff, have performed to a stratospheric level. The middle three matches were all desperately close, which is why this Ashes contest has captured the public imagination. But for much of the time in every match, England dominated proceedings. They should have won comfortably at Edgbaston, they would have won at Old Trafford but for the rain, and they might not have made it as tight as they did at Trent Bridge.

If it was 3-1 now, we would not be going through all this emotional angst. The Ashes would be home safe and sound, but that, do not forget, is the nature of the Australian beast. They have been handed an opportunity, they know it, and will do their utmost to seize it.

Both sides would like to have taken more catches in the series. England have dropped too many for their liking, but the point is that they have still taken Australian wickets. This means that they have probably been making 14 or 15 chances an innings. In the past there have been times when we have struggled to create half that many. At The Brit Oval four years ago, Australia made more than 600 and lost only four wickets.

The ground is a pleasure to look at now. The OCS stand at the Vauxhall End has made an immense difference to the old place. Before, the stands were far removed from the pitch and sloped gently backwards. All the atmospheric noise disappeared out the back, over the Vauxhall Bridge and disappeared down the Thames. Now it is contained within the ground, and what a difference it will make. Players will feel they are performing in a sporting arena, and it looks much better too. If the Ashes come home it will be an atmosphere the like of which will never have been experienced.

The ground has one more big game to stage this summer. Surrey will play Middlesex in the final Championship fixture, which could decide which of the counties is relegated. Surrey should not be in this position, we know that. It has not helped that the captain - me - has been forced to miss three-quarters of the season. If we cannot fashion some points from the current game at Edgbaston our fate could conceivably be sealed before the final match. This not as it should be, but a challenging time awaits the club in the next two or three years whatever happens. The team will change, because age means there is likely to be a turnover. That will mean the introduction of young players and the shrewd signing of overseas players. It will need to be staged carefully.

Young cricketers tend to want everything too quickly these days, within a year of signing a contract. The important thing is to ensure that when they are introduced to first-team cricket they are ready.